Dearly departed Jeffrey Lee Pierce may have left us in 1996, but he also left behind one dirt-ragged and burnt out back catalogue. Formed in 1980 by Pierce and Kid Congo Powers (who would leave to join The Cramps before their debut Fire of Love in 1981), The Gun Club (along with bands like X) introduced a mix of blues, country and rockabilly into the LA punk scene. Cooking Vinyl have picked up where Fire of Love left off, reissuing the second album Miami, the Death Party EP and the final album before the band split in 1984, The Las Vegas Story. Each album comes as a 2CD release with the second CD comprising a live recording from the same time period.
Recorded in New York and released in 1982, Miami is much less a wilder ride than the screaming blues of its predecessors. More lonesome whiskey cowboy than junked up rock and roll, Pierce takes on the persona of a high plains punker with a tremulous touch of Jim Morrison (check “Fire of Love”) thrown in for extra measure. He gives it his best shot on “Like Calling Up Thunder” and their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Run Through The Jungle“, but Miami picks a mood and sticks with it and this has much to do with the flat production of Chris Stein of Blondie than anything, which despite the spirited playing fails to reach its potential. The omnipresent twang of slide guitar, the country shuffle serenade of “Mother of Earth”, the Texan voodoo spook of “Watermelon Man”, Debbie Harry backing Pierce on “Brother and Sister”, sure Miami has its moments but it seems like cold water in the face of Fire of Love.
The Death Party EP picked up neatly where Miami left off. Its 5 tracks moving toward a more fleshed out sound, in particular the harmonies and rambling piano on “The House on Highland Ave” that took The Gun Club down a more open road (that would eventually lead to The Las Vegas Story), but each track was diverse enough to show off a different side to the band, which at that stage was changing hands with every release. Produced once more by Chris Stein, Death Party is too short to make any lasting impression, but the bitter rockabilly of “The Lie” and the roots rock of “The Light of The World” are as good as anything on Miami. “This is a disco song for you to dance to, and fuck to and shit“ Pierce introduces the title track on the live disc. The bassline settles into a blues groove while the dirgey guitar squall goes toe to toe Pierce’s increasingly agitated vocal. It’s not quite disco, but it’s still a party.
By 1984, The Gun Club had all but shed the punk rawness that had birthed the band. The Las Vegas Story was a telling title, again a departure from the previous years EP, boasting a more polished ‘alternative’ sound that was unrecognisable to that of the band who gave us Fire of Love three years earlier. Kid Congo Powers flew the coup from The Cramps to rejoin the band on guitar, while Patricia Morrison (who would later become a Sister of Mercy) joined on bass. Together they’d make the last great Gun Club record, one that had the band try their hand at some unexpected covers, Pierce taking over from Ella Fitzgerald on Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” and avant-jazz in Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Master”. As much a departure to normal programming, the sheer all-over-the-place feel of the album is what draws you back in. From the tribal rhythms of “Walkin’ With The Beast” and the ragged rock of “Bad America”, to the sombre acoustic ballad “Secret Fires”, The Las Vegas Story isn’t fit for one telling. The band would break up (though not for the last time) before the year was out, but Las Vegas wasn’t such a bad place to wind things up.